The criminal court on Tuesday heard closing arguments in the trial of the first Maldivians charged with human trafficking.
Mohamed Muahmar and Hussain Sunaih are accused of trafficking by submitting fake construction agreements and other documents to obtain hundreds of immigration permits. They were charged with participating in human trafficking, lying to a government office and document forging.
At Tuesday’s hearing, the state prosecutor explained how the suspects obtained more than 300 work permits after submitting fake documents in the name of their company Rivers Construction Pvt Ltd.
“These documents were submitted online by a password and username provided by the immigration department to Rivers Construction,” the state lawyer said.
Out of the hundreds of work permits, the state was able to identify two Bangladeshi men who were brought to the Maldives under the company’s name.
“Two Bangladeshi men, Mohamed Sajhan Ahmed and Ahmed Naeem, were trafficked into Maldives under work permits granted to Rivers Construction but were rescued in Malé by authorities. The victims explained in front of a judge how they were manipulated and coerced into coming to Maldives and left without a job,” the prosecutor said.
But the defence lawyer Ali Shah argued the “supposed trafficking victims” never said the defendants forced them to travel to Maldives.
“This is a critical point that has to be proven by the state. However, it remains unproven to date,” he said.
The defence also questioned the admissibility of the prosecution’s documentary evidence.
“These supposedly valid documents submitted by the state are the private property of Rivers Construction. It cannot be obtained without a valid court order. Therefore the defence counsel believes that these documents cannot be submitted to court,” he said.
Shah also noted that the prosecution called the same witnesses on all the charges. “We believe that these witnesses are not relevant to prove the case,” he said.
The judge adjourned the hearing after announcing that a verdict would be delivered within 30 days.
At a previous hearing, three prosecution witnesses testified in favour of the defendants.
In June, the Maldives was removed from a human trafficking watch list of the US State Department following the first successful prosecution and conviction of traffickers. A downgrade to tier three on the watch list could have entailed non-humanitarian and non-trade sanctions.
Some 130,000 migrant workers are believed to reside in the Maldives, including 60,000 undocumented workers, the majority of whom are Bangladeshi and Indian men working in the construction and tourism sectors.
An unknown number are subjected to “practices indicative of forced labour, including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages, and debt bondage,” according to the State Department.
The first cases under the 2013 anti-human trafficking law were prosecuted last year. The first conviction was secured in November when three Bangladeshi men were each sentenced to 10 years in jail for sex trafficking.